If negotiators are too friendly with each other, they’re more likely to misbehave, including lying or acting against the interests of their employers.

That’s the conclusion researchers from the Wharton Business School and Emory University published in “The Dark Side of Rapport” in this month’s Journal of Management Science. After carefully studying both face-to-face and online negotiations between participants under different experimental conditions, they found that:

“Negotiators who have a high level of rapport are more likely to behave unethically than are negotiators who have a low level of rapport. We find this effect holds both when high rapport results from the way in which negotiations are conducted (face-to-face versus computer mediated) and also when rapport is established through a brief rapport-building exercise before negotiations begin.”

The motivation for behaving unethically in high rapport situations can stem from the desire to maintain the high rapport by avoiding honest discussions about points of impasse. The researchers also found that unethical behavior in high rapport negotiations could be reduced by simply reminding participants that:

“…you would also need to live with the legal, social, and professional consequences of any decisions you make during the negotiation. Your success in future negotiations, your continued employment with the client you represent, and your reputation in the local business community – including your ability to get other jobs – could all be affected by the decisions you make as a negotiator.”

This simple reminder did not lower the level of rapport between negotiators nor did it affect the positive outcomes of the negotiations (reported by the authors as “satisfaction with the negotiation, trust, and willingness to work in the future with the negotiation partner”), but it did reduce the level of unethical behavior in both high rapport and low rapport negotiations.

Is it surprising to you that all it takes is a reminder to the negotiators that their actions and reputations matter?

If you’re negotiating project selection in a project portfolio, one excellent way to maximize your portfolio value while controlling costs, risks, and resources is by using Optsee® in your project portfolio management program. Click on the link to watch the short video “Predicting Project Portfolio Value Using Simulations” to learn more.